McCormack Speaks

Reflections on October 19 Presidential Debate


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Two of our policy experts weigh in on the third presidential debate.

by Michael Johnson
Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs

Which would you rather have, the person who argues from evidence, who employs logic to justify statements, who cites facts, and who bobs and weaves when necessary to avoid acknowledging unpleasant facts, or someone who will look you in the eye and make definitive statements, no matter how outrageous? In other words, do you want as your preferred politician the rhetorician, the policy analyst, the delineator – and sometimes the dissembler – or do you want the verbal pugilist, the salesperson, the missionary?

During last night’s debate moderator Chris Wallace asked the candidates how they could argue that their economic plans are realistic. Secretary Clinton constructed a narrative summarizing 30 years of experience advocating for children and families, while Mr. Trump discriminated against minorities, insulted beauty queens and ran Celebrity Apprentice. Mr. Trump said, “I built a great company with a $1 million loan. If we could run our country like I’ve run my company, you’d be proud.”

Earlier, Mr. Wallace asked Secretary Clinton: “In response to the question during confirmation hearings for the office of Secretary of State, did you keep your pledge to avoid even the appearance of conflicts of interest in affairs associated with the Clinton Foundation?” Secretary Clinton responded, “Everything I did as Secretary of State furthered American interests” – which may be true, or at least can be verified. Mr. Trump replied, [The Clinton Foundation] is a criminal enterprise. [It has accepted money from] people who push gays off buildings. Why don’t you give back the money?”

When Mr. Wallace asked the candidates to address the issue of fitness for the presidency, focusing on allegations of sexual impropriety by Mr. Trump, Secretary Clinton quoted Mr. Trump’s remarks from previous rallies denying the charges and belittling the women who made the allegations. She said, “Donald Trump thinks that belittling women makes him bigger. We need to demonstrate who we are, what we expect from our next president.” Mr. Trump responded, “Nobody has more respect for women than I do. Nobody,” and “I don’t know these women, Maybe [Clinton’s] campaign is behind it.”

Finally, Mr. Wallace asked the candidates to make impromptu, one-minute closing remarks, not just for the debate, but for the campaign. While Hillary Clinton spoke eloquently and succinctly about reaching out to all Americans, to make America work for all of us, Mr. Trump spoke in familiar sound bites: “We will make America great. We’ll take care of our vets…Our inner cities are a disaster. I will do more for African-Americans and Latinos than she’ll do in four lifetimes.”

For many Americans, it’s not close. They want the guy who will tell it like it is, who will lay down the law, who will make it sound simple. When one candidate is highly-qualified and temperamentally-suited for the job as president, but hampered by inconsistencies in policy positions over time, or across audiences, and is not, as the New York Times recently said, “a naturally emotive speaker”, and another candidate, though wholly lacking in qualifications, temperament, experience, or intelligence, can bully, interrupt, insult, and state as fact just about anything he wants, whether coherent or logically organized, or supported by any evidence whatsoever, with utter certainty and with the gift of cleverness and persuasiveness we associate with the best commercials, how are many Americans, frustrated with the state of their lives, the economy and the country, supposed to think?

I’ll hope for the best. Is betting on people’s better natures a winning strategy these days, though?

Professor Michael JohnsonMichael Johnson (PhD, Northwestern University) is an associate professor of public policy and public affairs. He conducts community-based operations research to develop planning models for public-sector facility location and service delivery, with applications to assisted housing and senior services. His research goal is to develop quantitative methods that enable public organizations to serve disadvantaged and vulnerable populations in ways that jointly optimize economic efficiency, beneficial population outcomes, and social equity.


by Ann Bookman
Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy

Most of the commentary after the final presidential debate has focused on Donald Trump’s refusal to say he will respect the outcome of the election. This is truly shocking and implies that he thinks he is above one of the most basic elements in our democratic system–that is, respecting the voice of the voters about their choice of whom should be president.  However, what is being downplayed is his continued disrespect for a particular group of voters–that is women. When asked by the debate moderator about the accusations of women who say he made unwanted sexual advances toward them, he simply dismissed the allegations saying, “Those stories have been largely debunked.” When candidate Clinton was talking about her plans to put more money into the Social Security Trust Fund by raising taxes on the wealthy, Trump tried to interrupt her by calling her “such a nasty woman.” This represents yet another example of his disrespectful name calling of women.

One of the things most striking about all three debates is how so few questions have focused on pressing policy issues that matter to women. Last night’s debate provided the candidates only a few minutes to address their plans for “how to get the economy going.” Candidate Clinton used this opportunity to talk about policies that will benefit middle class families as a whole, and honed in on policies that will benefit working women in particular. She commented, “I sure do want to make sure women get equal pay for the work we do.” She also mentioned her commitment to a high quality educational system “that starts with pre-school and goes through college.” This underscores her often-stated commitment to ensure more affordable childcare and to expand access to early childhood education programs so key to the healthy development of young children. Candidate Trump never mentioned working families or women when talking about the economy, but instead his response focused on NATO and trade issues.  With less than three weeks until the election, one can only hope that the full array of issues of importance to women–from sexual assault to reproductive rights to pay equity, to name a few–will get the attention they deserve.

Ann BookmanAnn Bookman (PhD, Harvard University) directs the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy and the Graduate Certificate Program in Gender, Leadership, and Public Policy at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School. With three decades of experience in academia and government, Bookman is a leading researcher and social policy expert on women’s issues, work-family balance, and community engagement.

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